A cowboy Count invented it.
Hemingway named one of his dogs after it.
And 100 years after its inception, the negroni is still the second most-ordered cocktail in the world.
Bitter-tasting, complex and lit with a deep red glow, the negroni is one of those drinks that has eternal appeal. It’s sophisticated, a little challenging – the sort of order that’ll elicit an approving nod from your bartender. And most of all, it’s quite literally the stuff of legend.
See, the negroni really started life as a version of another drink, the Americano… which itself was a version of the Milano-Torino. The ‘Mi-To’ was first produced in Milan by Gaspare Campari, who – fresh from perfecting his eponymous bitter amaro – started combining the stuff with other Italian spirits to make cocktails. The resulting combination of Milan’s Campari with Turin’s vermouth became especially popular with American tourists, who drank it lengthened with soda to make an ‘Americano’.
Caffe Casoni, 1915
So far, so delicious. But the seminal moment came in 1919, when one Count Camillo Negroni – by all accounts, quite the character – came to Florence and pulled up a stool at the Caffè Casoni. Behind the bar was Fosco Scarselli, one of that rare old breed who believed “the bartender must change depending on the customer who is standing in front of him. He has to know and guess the flavour and the mood he should offer him.”
The Count had just returned from various jaunts around the world – including a trip to London, where he discovered gin, and a long stint in America, where he supposedly worked as a cowboy and went gambling in New York. So when he asked for an Americano a po più robusto – that is, a little stronger – Scarselli obliged, creating a drink just as well-travelled, charismatic and mysterious as its namesake, by swapping out the soda for gin.
The cocktail ‘in the style of the count’ rapidly became popular across Europe, both in countries where the aperitivo tradition was already entrenched (France, Spain), and in countries that wished they had an aperitivo tradition (the UK). In fact, it only really disappeared from the public eye in the 80s and 90s, when club culture called for drinks that were shaken, not stirred; vodka and rum took the mantle from gin; and cocktails became a lot more sugary. This was the era of the caipirinha, the cosmo, and the espresso martini (supposedly invented when a supermodel, like a 90s Count Negroni, asked for a drink that would “wake [her] up and f*** [her] up”).
But come the noughties, we were ready for a different bar culture – one which harked back to the golden age of glamour, of illicit Prohibition-era speakeasies and low-lit nooks, of 60s aperitivo hours spent people-watching at a table on the piazza. We were ready for drinks that took time and care to make, ready for more sophisticated flavours and something less sugary. And boy, did we like gin again. The negroni made its comeback as a bartenders’ drink – balanced yet bitter, something that felt new again, and shot through with the intriguing herbal notes of Campari and botanicals from the gin.
So the negroni is back, and in a big way – and luckily, as the home of the gin renaissance, London is spoilt for bars that make it very, very well. Whether you’re after a traditional serve or something a little more pioneering, you’ll find it in this city – so behold: our pick of the best negronis in London, and where to find them…
Bar Termini | Soho
Soho’s inimitable, elegant, pocket-sized homage to 60s Italian caffè and cocktail culture is a fitting home-from-home for the aperitivo in London. And they’re certainly no strangers to a bottle of Campari here – you’ll find it in both the Garibaldi and Death in Venice, two of a concise list of just seven classics. The negroni, however, is afforded the utmost respect: earning its own section on the menu, the cocktail comes in four different varieties. Each have been painstakingly concocted in mixologist maestro Tony Conigliaro’s Drink Factory, where he’s tinkered with the classic Campari-gin-vermouth combo by ageing it in sous-vide pressure cookers, infusing it with botanicals like rose petals. READ MORE
Details: 7 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JE | Open daily 10am-late (from 11am Sun)
Cecconi’s at The Ned | Bank
There once was a place named Cecconi’s, which served a whole page of negronis. The nicest by far, is the one made with Star… of Bombay gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, barrel-aged and delivering a lovely, classically bitter taste. It’s best enjoyed up at their sleekly curving bar, soaking up some live jazz from The Ned’s central bandstand; but you may like to know that Cecconi’s Pizza Bar in Soho also serves negronis… on tap. READ MORE
Details: The Ned, 27 Poultry, EC2R 8AJ | Open Sun-Tues until 11.45pm, Wed-Sat until 12.45am
Rules | Covent Garden
Swinging open its doors in 1798, Rules was already over 100 years old when the negroni was invented. Safe to say, then, that the bar here witnessed the cocktail’s meteoric rise to fame firsthand, and they know a thing or two about putting one together. For the drink’s own centenary, head tender Brian Silva and his team have dedicated an entire page of the menu to the negroni, featuring a number of different twists. Try the Golden Negroni with Poire Williams – a French eau de vie – for a thoroughly European taste. READ MORE
Details: 35 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7LB | Open daily midday-midnight
Little Mercies | Crouch End
This bar, set on an unprepossessing stretch of Crouch End broadway, is a true neighbourhood gem – and their take on the negroni really is one of life’s little mercies. They embellish the base of Campari and Victory Gin with cherry vermouth, giving the drink a sharper taste, with the almond-cherry notes knitting perfectly with its herbal base. Plus, the delicious small plates coming out of the kitchen mean that you can stay here all night. READ MORE
Details: 20 Broadway Parade, N8 9DE | Open Wed-Fri 5pm-12am, Sat 12pm-12am, Sun 12-10pm
Frank’s Café | Peckham
Frank’s – or to give it its full title, Frank’s Café and Campari Bar – is a London institution. And for somewhere with Campari in their name, it’s pretty much imperative that they serve a good negroni. For 11 years, the rooftop bar perched above a Peckham car park has been serving up excellent incarnations of the drink, with a slice of London skyline on the side… READ MORE
Details: 7th – 10th Floors, Multi-Storey Car Park, 95a Rye Lane, SE15 4TG | Reopens 30th May 2019
Sager + Wilde Paradise Row | Bethnal Green
There are two key things you need to know about Sager + Wilde’s take on the negroni:
1) It’s made with chinotto, a bittersweet soft drink invented in 1950s Italy and made from an orange-like citrus fruit; and
2) You can order one alongside a plate of handmade pasta for £10 for lunch or an early dinner. Every day. READ MORE
Details: Arch 250 Paradise Row, E2 9LE | Open daily | Negroni + pasta deal: Tues-Sun 12-3pm and Mon-Sun 5-7pm
Gloria | Shoreditch
Suitably for the restaurant that serves a ten-layer lasagne and a lemon meringue pie that’s the length of your face, Italian restaurant Gloria pays tribute to the motherland with their extravagant Trophy Negroni, made up with Campari, Bulldog Gin, Cinzano 1757… and porcini mushroom wine and truffle foam. READ MORE
Details: 54-56 Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3QR | Open daily
Oriole | Smithfield
Nightjar’s sibling Oriole is all about the age of exploration, with beautiful objets d’art from around the world displayed in glass cabinets, and palm trees lining the walls. And their ever-changing cocktail list takes a similar round-the-world trip, currently sporting a negroni from Florence via Montego Bay, Jamaica. Called the Montego Boulevard, the usual Campari is joined with 12 year aged rum, Chaney root tea tonic and banana loaf infusion. READ MORE
Details: East Poultry Avenue, Smithfield Markets, EC1A 9LH | Open daily from 6pm-late (11pm Mon)
The Ivy Soho Brasserie | Soho
Head to The Ivy‘s more approachable spin-off, take a pew at the polished onyx bar, and order yourself an equally precious gem: the Bitter Sweet Symphony. Part of their new cocktail menu inspired by cult music from the 60s onwards, it’s a sparkling, spritz-style take on the negroni, combining Campari with Beefeater gin, soda and their own house blend of vermouth. It’ll be music to your mouth.
Details: 26-28 Broadwick Street, W1F 8JB | Open Mon-Sat 8am-12am, Sun 9am-11pm
Vermuteria | King’s Cross
An impossibly cool, old school vermouth bar tucked beneath a railway arch in the new Coal Drops Yard, Vermuteria boasts buttery soft pastries by day, and a library of French, Spanish and Italian vermouths by night. Four out of the six drinks on their cocktail menu are a kind of negroni, from the original drink that inspired it (the soda-based Americano) to the 70s ‘sbagliato’, with prosecco instead of gin. The highlight, however, is the elegant Negroni ‘V’, which balances Campari with Antica Formula Italian vermouth and Batch 1 Gin from the East London Liquor Company, laced with notes of Darjeeling tea. READ MORE.
Details: 38/39 Coal Drops Yard, N1C 4DQ | Open weekdays from 8am, weekends from 10pm-late
Duck & Waffle | Liverpool Street
On the quest, presumably, to create the most Italian cocktail of all time, Duck & Waffle have served this moody-looking take on the negroni for over seven years. The classic base (here using Bombay Sapphire gin and Martini Rubino vermouth alongside the requisite Campari) is slow-dripped for 24 hours through crushed coffee beans for a complex, espresso-laced flavour. Which makes it the perfect choice whether you’re dining there at 11pm… or 6am. READ MORE
Details: 110 Bishopsgate, EC2N 4AY | Open 24 hours
Last Updated: 11th June 2019 | Main image: Bar Termini
Now you've seen how the professionals do it...
Campari seems to find its way into some of the world’s best-loved classic cocktails – and the good news is that they’re not impossible to master yourself. So we’ve put together recipes for the best of ’em – including the negroni – alongside the fascinating history of Campari’s creation and the story of its iconic 20th century artwork, right HERE.